May 27, 2019

Future engineers put their education into action in rural Alberta communities

UCalgary Across Alberta: Small-town postings offer hands-on learning in a professional setting
Devin Drozdz's internship is in the central Alberta municipality of Clearwater County. Photo courtesy Devin Drozdz
Devin Drozdz's internship is in the central Alberta municipality of Clearwater County. Photo courtes

Devin Drozdz, above, didn’t expect to be presenting to Clearwater County council when he became the central Alberta municipality’s first civil engineering intern. With 2,500 kilometres of road and 174 bridges to maintain, stretching from north of Rocky Mountain House to south of Caroline, and all the way out to Nordegg, his work placement has been an all-hands-on-deck scenario. And Drozdz couldn’t be happier.

“The stereotype you always hear is that engineers have no idea what happens in the real world, outside of their office. When I do my work at Clearwater County I aim to break that stereotype,” says Drozdz, one of around 750 Schulich School of Engineering students currently on internship this summer.

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“I encourage all future engineers, if you are working on a project, get out to the site as much as you can, talk to the workers, see what they think. Because what looks good on a drawing may not look as good on site,” he says.

The Schulich School of Engineering is committed to bridging the gap between the classroom and the workplace by providing students with opportunities to put their education into action in a professional setting, explains Jenny Cruickshank, associate director of student services.

“Work-integrated learning is a critical component of preparing our students to launch successful engineering careers,” Cruickshank says. “It is part of ongoing professional development, leadership training and career supports that we provide our students before graduation.” 

Engineering students who complete their first three full years of study at the University of Calgary are eligible to pursue paid work experience through the internship program. With guidance from the Engineering Career Centre, they spend 12 to 16 months working in engineering positions before completing the final year of their degree.

Many of these future engineers are choosing to pursue work opportunities in rural communities across Alberta.

At the CertainTeed insulation plant in Redcliff, Alta., heavy machinery must run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That makes a monthly shutdown day the only time for crews to provide vital ongoing maintenance, says mechanical engineering intern Keagan Graham. 

Keagan Graham's internship is at CertainTeed in Redcliff, Alta.

Keagan Graham's internship is at CertainTeed in Redcliff, Alta.

Keagan Graham

Working with the plant engineer, electrical engineer, electricians and mechanics, Graham is helping to organize contractors and schedule repairs to keep heavy machinery operating efficiently.

“So much of what we learn in school only applies to the perfect world in which all our formulas work exactly as we expect. The internship program has allowed me to learn hands-on what an engineer really does,” says Graham.

Facing everyday operational challenges alongside experienced engineers has changed Graham’s impressions of his future career. 

“Early on in my internship, I felt almost personally offended when something I had been working on went wrong. But now, almost nine months into my internship, I can say I’m a much more flexible engineer. When something goes wrong, it is your job to keep your head and deal with the issue like the professional engineer that you are in the process of becoming,” Graham explains.

Back in Clearwater County, Drozdz works with a small but talented public works team. He also consults with many different engineering firms across the province, large and small. His internship is providing the chance for him to develop his network, allowing more experienced engineers to know him for his skills and work ethic.

“In future, if I am applying to a job at these offices, they will look at me and think, ‘Devin Drozdz, we’ve worked with him before. He’s a good kid. He’d fit in well here.’ And really, that’s all anyone can ask for — for people to see you and think ‘He is good and won’t let you down’,” Drozdz says.